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Bristol brought down slave trader’s statue. This is what India should do with Manu statue

The year 2020 will not tolerate White-washing or Manu-splaining of history. It’s time to remove Manu statue from the premises of Rajasthan High Court.

Manu statue in front of the Rajasthan High Court | Facebook/@RajasthanHC
File photo of Rajasthan High Court | Facebook/@RajasthanHC

Slave trader Edward Colston has been taken down by the Black Lives Matter movement in Bristol. Now it’s time for Manu.

But this is less imaginable in the Rajasthan High Court than it was in England.

Despite numerous attempts to have the Manu statue removed from the high court’s garden in Jaipur, and two Dalit women blackening it two years ago, the 31-year-old creation has remained.

While Colston was a 17th-century slave trader who transported and sold over 84,000 people to the US through the Royal African Company, Manu was the codifier of the caste system in India. The Manusmriti is responsible for what some have called the ‘Holo-caste’. Four Dalit women are reportedly raped every day, and crimes against Dalits have risen by 25 per cent over the last decade.

But Edward Colston and Manu were ‘honourable men’. Colston was refashioned as a philanthropist who used his ‘fortunes’ for the prosperity of Bristol. And Manu was installed not by the government but a lawyers’ body for being the “first person to have come up with a written law”. However, 2020 is not the year for white-washing or Manu-splaining history.

When Dalits and women tear down the statue of Manu, should its final destination be the Man Sagar lake in Jaipur, like Colston’s was in Avon river?

Also read: South Asians in the US must support #BlackLivesMatter, but first undo your own anti-Blackness

Manu, the epitome of casteist bigotry

Manu is one of the most hated persons in Indian history, especially by Dalits, lower caste people and women. Savi Savarkar, an art teacher, was once asked to make a portrait of Manu. So, he condensed all the hatred in the world on his canvas and painted Manu as the devil.

The Manusmriti is a law book on how to maintain, perpetuate and reproduce caste, gender hierarchy and the varna order. It is claimed that this is the text that formalised patriarchy and caste in India. It is the very text that a young Ambedkar and his associates burned while agitating for the right to drink water from a public pond in Mahad, Maharashtra, on 25 December 1927. To commemorate the event, Ambedkarites still celebrate this day as Manusmriti Dahan Diwas.

The resistance against the tyranny of Manu continues in modern India. Which is why, in 2018, two Ambedkarite women from Maharashtra  — Sheela Bai Pawar and Kanta Ramesh Ahire — blackened the statue of Manu in the Rajasthan High Court. Before that, in 1989, all judges of the court unanimously decided that the statue should be removed. But that order was stayed after a PIL was filed by Vishva Hindu Parishad leader Acharya Dharmendra who said, “There is no mention of hate and discrimination in the philosophy of Manu.”

It is all too well known what the Manusmriti says about Shudras and women. These three verses from Manusmriti, quoted in The Philosophy of Hinduism by Ambedkar, are enough to explain why it is hated by Dalits and OBCs —

XI. 35. “The Brahman is (hereby) declared (to be) the creator (of the world), the punisher, the teacher, (and hence) a benefactor (of all created beings); to him let no man say anything unpropitious; nor use any harsh words”.

X. 123. The service of the Brahmanas alone is declared to be an excellent occupation for a Shudra; for whatever else besides this he may perform will bear no fruit.

X. 129. No collection of wealth must be made by a Shudra, even though he be able to do it; for a Shudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahman.

Despite all this, there are still many admirers of Manu. He is hailed as someone who wrote the first ‘law book’ of the Hindu social order. After all, the statue of Manu was erected in the high court premises under the excuse of “beautification”.

Also read: Indian democracy’s big contradiction – Dalits cherish Constitution, privileged want a rethink

Manu and Colston have many fans

For many, Manu is a great ‘sage’. Manu and his smriti have been quoted in court judgments way too often. A law resource website has documented as many as 805 instances when Manu and his treatises have been quoted in court pronouncements. Even a Supreme Court judge, while hearing a case related to the Mumbai bomb blast, had cited Manusmriti to bolster his argument.

The same is the case with Colston. The official history of the British Parliament project describes him as a person who was “celebrated in his native city as a philanthropist par excellence…the highest example of Christian liberality that this age has produced, both for the extensiveness of his charities and the prudent regulation of them”. His name is still etched in many monuments, buildings and institutions in Bristol. But his statue had to go, nevertheless.

Also read: Casteist judges? Justice V. Chitambaresh wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last

The future for Manu’s statue

Manu’s statue has to go from the premises of the Rajasthan High Court. There are four reasons why.

1. A high court premise is not the right place for the statue of someone whose law book violates the basic principles and preamble of the Indian Constitution. It is against Articles 14 to 18, The Protection of Civil Rights Act, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and many others. How can we have a statue of Manu in the court premises and still adjudicate in matters of property rights of women and equality?

2. His name brings ill will and divides people. Manu has nothing good to offer in terms of human or constitutional values.

3. It does not belong there. The statue was never a part of the original building plan or inaugurated. It stands there as an aberration in a secular institution. A full bench of the same high court had ordered its removal. The PIL challenging this order should not have been entertained.

4. If he is a revered person in Hindu mythology, someone can make Manu statues in temples or religious complexes. But not in a court.

Now, the question is, if the Manu statue is removed from where it stands, what should India do with it?

It should not be dumped in a lake or a river. Even the ugliest and cruelest parts of history should be preserved so that it can be studied and serve as a lesson.

Let the government of India or Rajasthan build a museum of caste and patriarchy. It can be modelled on The National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The statue of Manu should be placed there as one of the many exhibits that tell future generations about the horrors of the caste system and how he was venerated for decades. The accompanying text should say:

This is a statue of Manu, the supposed writer of the Manusmriti and the harbinger of hatred towards lower castes and women, erected in 1989 in the Rajasthan High Court premises. It was removed from there in 2020.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.